14 types of student loans

Compare federal and private options to find the best one for your needs.

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You have a lot of options when it comes to borrowing for school. Most experts recommend that you apply for federal loans before looking into private options. But that might not always be the right choice — especially if you only qualify for PLUS Loans. Consider all of your options before you make a decision.

What types of student loans are there?

There are three main types of student loans: federal loans, private loans and student loan refinancing.

  • Federal student loans. The Department of Education (DoE) directly offers these student loans, which come with the same rates for all borrowers and more flexible repayment options. These are generally the most affordable and easiest option to qualify for.
  • Private student loans. These student loans offered by private lenders are meant to cover costs when you max out your federal loan eligibility or can’t qualify. Rates and terms usually depend on your or your cosigner’s credit and income.
  • Student loan refinancing. Available after your repayments start, refinancing allows you to take out a new loan with a private lender to pay off your current student loans. It allows you to change your rates and terms, but also means you lose federal benefits like income-driven repayment plans.

Types of federal student loans

There are several types of federal loans you might want to consider. Not all are available to all types of students, and some have annual and lifetime limits.

Loan typeInterest rateWho can qualifyMaximum amount
Direct Subsidized Loans4.53%Undergraduates
  • Annual limit: $3,500 to $5,500
  • Lifetime limit: $23,000 to $65,500
Direct Unsubsidized Loans
  • Undergraduates: 4.53%
  • Graduate and professional students: 6.08%
  • Undergraduates
  • Graduate and professional students
  • Annual limit: $5,500 to $20,500
  • Lifetime limit: $31,000 to $138,500
Grad PLUS Loans7.08%Graduate and professional students100% of your school-certified cost of attendance
Parent PLUS Loans7.08%Parents of undergraduate students100% of your school-certified cost of attendance

Direct Subsidized Loans

Direct Subsidized Loans are the best deal out there when it comes to federal loans. They always have the lowest interest rate and you don’t have to pay interest that adds up when you defer your loans. The downside is that they’re only available to undergraduates and have the lowest annual and lifetime limits of the bunch.

Direct Unsubsidized Loans

Direct Unsubsidized Loans are your second-best option when it comes to federal loans. They have the second-lowest rates, but a slightly higher annual and lifetime limit. They’re also available to graduate and professional students.

But any interest that adds up while your loans are in deferment — including while you’re in school and during the six-month grace period — gets added to your loan balance in something called interest capitalization.

Graduate PLUS Loans

Graduate students who ran out of funding might want to consider a Grad PLUS Loan. There’s no limit to how much you can borrow, though with rates this high, you might want to also see how they compare with private loans if you’re considering this option.

You still have access to the same wide range of repayment plans, deferment, forbearance and forgiveness programs that come with other federal loans, but it might not be worth it if you don’t plan on taking advantage of these benefits.

Parent PLUS Loans

Parent PLUS Loans are the only federal student loan available to parents who want to take out loans for their undergraduate student. And in that sense, they’re the only federal option that can cover up to 100% of an undergraduate’s tuition.

They work like Graduate PLUS Loans, except they come with fewer income-driven repayment options and aren’t directly eligible for Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF).

Types of private student loans

Depending on your needs, there are several different types of private student loans you might want to consider after you’ve exhausted your federal options. You can usually borrow up to 100% of your school-certified cost of attendance — and in some cases cover postgraduate expenses. The rates and terms you get on these loans vary by lender and typically depend on your or your cosigner’s credit and income.

General private student loans

  • Typical amount: $5,000 to 100% of your school-certified cost of attendance
  • Typical rates: 4.5% to 18% APR
  • Typical terms: Five to 20 years

Most private student loans can cover your full educational cost — including housing and other personal expenses — as long as you’re enrolled in school. Those that do have limits are higher than federal loans. You usually need to have a credit score of at least 670 and an income of around $24,000 a year to qualify, though you can often meet these requirements by applying with a cosigner.

Typically, you have the choice between starting repayments in school, making reduced repayments or deferring repayments until six months after you drop below half-time enrollment. After that, you pay the same amount each month over the life of your term — usually there are no income-driven or graduated repayment options.

Medical school loans

Some student loan providers offer financing specifically for medical students. Many have the option to defer or make reduced repayments during your residency, so you don’t have to refinance later. Rates tend to be lower since you’re entering a high-paying field or come with a discount for getting higher grades.

International student loans

While some private student loans are available to international students with a cosigner who’s a US citizen or permanent resident, there are options made specifically for noncitizens who don’t have a cosigner. Lenders typically consider your grades and major when you apply rather than your credit score and income.

Rates are usually higher than other private student loans, starting at around 9% APR. And most have limits to how much you can borrow. Repayment terms are also shorter — usually capped at around 10 years.

No-cosigner student loans

Some lenders specialize in funding for students who need private loans but can’t find a cosigner. These are similar to international student loans in that your eligibility and rates are often based on your grades and degree program. Rates are also less competitive, and you might not be able to borrow as much as you would with a cosigner.

Parent loans

Private lenders also offer student loans to parents as an alternative to Parent PLUS Loans. These tend to have lower starting rates, so you might want to consider this option if you don’t necessarily need flexible repayments and have excellent credit. You can refinance any parent loan into your child’s name after they’ve settled into their career.

Bar exam loans

Most private student loans don’t cover costs after you graduate from school. One exception is bar exam loans, which recent law school graduates can use to cover the cost of a bar study course and other expenses involved with becoming a lawyer.

Medical residency relocation loans

Similar to bar exam loans, medical residency relocation loans can help you cover the costs associated with becoming a resident, such as traveling for interviews and relocating to a new city. You can usually borrow between $1,000 and $15,000 with rates starting at around 5.5% APR. Typically, you don’t need to make repayments until at least six months after you leave school — or as much as six months after you leave your residency or internship.

Compare private student loans

Updated November 15th, 2019
Name Product Min. Credit Score Max. Loan Amount APR
Good to excellent credit
Varies by lender (typically, total certified costs of education minus financial aid already received)
Starting at 3.26% with autopay
Get prequalified rates from private lenders offering student loans with no origination or prepayment fees.
Varies by lender
Varies by lender
Varies by lender
Quickly compare private lenders for your school and apply for the right student loan.
675
$200,000
4.51% to 9.26%
Straightforward student loans for undergraduate and graduate students.
700
$500,000
5.45% to 9.74%
Finance your college education through this lender with a strong social mission and terms that fit your budget.
Good to excellent credit
Varies by lender
Starting at 3%
Compare multiple student loans and student loan refinancing options in one place.

Compare up to 4 providers

Types of student loan refinancing

Refinancing allows you to take out a new private student loan to pay off your current loans. Which type of refinancing you might want depends on your reason for taking out a new loan.

General student loan refinancing

General student loan refinancing can be a good option if you want to get a better rate — APRs typically start around 2.5%. You can also use refinancing to switch your loan term or the company that handles your student loan repayments. Typically, you can get the best deal after you’ve settled into your career and have built up strong credit.

Medical residency refinancing

This option is designed for recent medical school graduates with a high student debt load who don’t have the option to defer their loans during their residency. This type of refinancing lets you make reduced repayments during your residency and six months after you finish — usually around $100 a month. However, medical residency refinancing makes your loans more expensive in the long run since the interest you don’t pay gets added to your loan balance once full repayments begin.

Parent loan refinancing

Parents have two options for refinancing: Refinancing in their own name for a better deal or refinancing in their child’s name. The second option might be a good choice if you’re looking to take out a mortgage or car loan, since it will lower your debt-to-income ratio. But make sure you’re eligible before you apply — some refinancing providers don’t work with parent borrowers.

Compare student loan refinancing options

Updated November 15th, 2019
Name Product Min. Credit Score Max. Loan Amount APR
680
$250,000
3.49% to 6.99%
Enjoy no fees, low rates and flexible terms — but only for borrowers with good credit.
660
None
Starting at 2.45%
Save on your student loans with this market-leading newcomer.
Good to excellent credit
None
Starting at 1.81%
Get prequalified offers from top student loan refinancing providers in one place.
680
None
2.39% to 6.01%
Lower your student debt costs with manageable payments, affordable rates and flexible terms.
650
None
1.81% to 6.49%
Get a tailored interest rate and repayment plan with no hidden fees.
650
Full balance of your qualified education loans
1.81% to 5.98%
A leader in student loan refinancing, SoFi can help you refinance your loans and pay them off sooner.
620
$300,000
2.27% to 7.49%
Refinance all types of student loans — including federal and parent PLUS loans.

Compare up to 4 providers

Bottom line

You have a wide range of options when it comes to borrowing for school. Most students benefit the most by starting with federal loans and only turning to private options when federal money has run out. You can learn more about how borrowing for school works by checking out our guide to student loans.

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